Letter From The Director

Continuing to Respond to the Crisis in Israel and Gaza


December 14, 2023

Dear Friends and Supporters of the Boniuk Institute,

In response to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza, we continue to grieve the immense suffering of these communities. The world is not as it should be and there are many lives needlessly lost.

We are mindful of our relative comfort amidst so much human suffering, and we want our sense of grief to lead to action.

As a university institute, we are devoted to convening, research and discovery that advances religious tolerance and increases understanding of religious conflict, discrimination, and peacebuilding. In line with this mission, the Boniuk Institute is planning five things in the spring semester that are relevant to the current crisis.
  1. Periodic Updates: In October, I wrote this letter to each of you. We will continue to periodically update you on how we are responding to unfolding events, and to make these letters accessible on our website.
  2. Relevant Research: We are applying for funding to study how the crisis is influencing the level, types, and places of antisemitism and Islamophobia in the U.S. If we are successful in attaining funding, we will share our findings and offer recommendations that might be useful to particular communities.
  3. International Convening on Religious Pluralism and Violence: In May 2024, the Boniuk Institute will host an international convening at Rice University on religious pluralism, discrimination and conflict in a changing world. We have been planning this event for months, but there is a greater sense of urgency now.
  4. Drawing on Faculty and External Advisory Boards: Institute leadership continues to be in regular conversation with our Faculty Advisory Board and External Advisory Board about the potential for us to hold conversational convenings for students, faculty, and the community as well as other responses that the Institute should take to address antisemitism and Islamophobia.
  5. Infusing Content in Ongoing Initiatives: We will also work to infuse historical and contemporary scholarly content into our ongoing initiatives, particularly our Reading Religion Salon for students and the Religion and Public Life Program's Religious and Civic Leader Gatherings.
I also want to share with you some of the core principles that will continue to inform our ongoing response.

Intellectual Response. In its highest and best form, the university is a place that produces top scholarship and research related to the pressing issues of our time. We believe an open, honest and safe intellectual community is key to developing students prepared to engage with the complexities of our world and keep scholars self-reflexive. It is our intent to bring the very best scholarship and research to bear on understanding the history, causes, and consequences of the Israel/ Gaza conflict.

Intellectual Community. Our first order of relational responsibility is to the university where we are housed, particularly its student and to its faculty and staff. Students are part of everything we do as a university entity. Over the past fifteen years, the Religion and Public Life Program and the Boniuk Institute have worked with nearly ninety undergraduate students in and outreach capacities. Over the last three semesters, our Reading Religion Salon has created an intellectual community for undergraduates and graduate student to talk about religious pluralism, conflict, and discrimination. We remain committed to holistically caring for students' intellectual development.

Intellectual Humility. We want the efforts of the Boniuk Institute to foster an environment where people can have convictions about their own perspectives while at the same time being open to learning from and appreciating the humanity of others. As scholars, we want to be vigilantly humble, knowing that we can be wrong and that our perspectives can change.

We are also mindful of religiously inflected crises and conflict in other places in the world. We at the Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance remain committed to our core mission of studying the causes and consequences of religious violence and discrimination, and furthering scholarly and public discourse in the months and years to come. 

We remain grateful for each of you.

Elaine Howard Ecklund
Director, Boniuk Institute